Moshe Galili Biography

Moshe Galili was born Andor ("Bandi") Guttmann on 15th March 1930 in Erdöbénye, a small village in the North-Eastern region of Hungary near the Slovakian border. It is an area of gentle landscape, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, which had a large Jewish population and a rich Jewish tradition before the Second World War.

Moshe had three sisters; two were older and one was a year younger. His father, Matyas, was a baker by trade and owned and ran a shop in the village.

In the early 1933s Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, and the virulent anti-Semitism that was becoming more prevalent in Germany soon spread to neighbouring Hungary. Matyas had to give up the bakery and the family moved to Budapest.

Unemployment was widespread, as it was across Europe at that time, but with the help of local relatives Matyas found a job and the family settled into a flat in one of the poorer districts of Budapest. Moshe's mother, Serena, not only had the difficult job of bringing up four children and looking after the flat, but also had to earn a little by doing housework.

Under such pressure, relations between Matyas and Serena became increasingly strained, not helped by the fact that their characters were so different. Serena was outgoing, happy and optimistic, whilst Matyas was introverted and reclusive, and would spend a lot of time reading and studying socialism.

In 1916 at the age of 18, Matyas was conscripted into the Hungarian Army to fight in World War One. He fought first on the Eastern, then on the Italian front and was twice wounded. When Hungary was occupied by Romanian and Allied forces, he was imprisoned and tortured for his strong socialist views. This experience, the loss of his bakery and livelihood, the emergence of Fascism and the growing anti-Semitism, took its toll on Matyas.

In 1938, Hungary annexed southern Czechoslovakia, and the right wing Parliament voted in more and more anti-Jewish laws. All Jews were ordered to sell their businesses to non-Jews, and Matyas, who was then running a petrol station, had to give up this job and was again drafted into the army. After the invasion he was de-mobbed and had the difficult task to find work again.

Three days after Moshe's 14th birthday, in March 1944, the German army marched into Hungary and occupied Budapest. The SS (Schutzstaffel), which had already massacred millions of Jews elsewhere in Europe, stepped up its campaign against Hungary's Jews. Hungarian Fascists (known as the Arrow Cross) eagerly joined in the persecution. Jews were forced by law to wear a yellow Star of David and had to leave their homes and move to designated Jewish houses, known as Star Houses.

Set apart from the rest of the Hungarian people and denied basic human rights, life for the Guttmanns and the rest of the Jewish community in Budapest became unbearable. When the deportation of the Jews began, the family's only weapon was their determination to survive.

Through strength, love and courage, Serena attempted to keep her family hidden, and amazingly she succeeded against all odds; Serena and the children survived the war. Matyas, who had escaped from the Military Work Service into which all military aged Jewish-men were conscripted, joined the Jewish armed resistance in Budapest. He was shot while fighting the Nazis, but his fate after this is unknown and it is presumed that he later died from the wound he received. (This is the period covered by the Budapest pictures)

In all, 555,000 of the 825,000 Jews who had lived in pre-war Hungary were killed in the Holocaust. The majority died in Auschwitz where over six million European Jews from the occupied countries were gassed between 1939 and 1945.

In January 1945, Budapest when was liberated from the Nazi forces. Moshe and his younger sister Kato joined a Jewish youth group, and together left Hungary. They hoped to become immigrants to Palestine but first sought refuge in a Displaced Persons' camp in the American Zone of the defeated Germany.

After two and a half years in the camp, their turn came to join other Holocaust survivors in packed ships sailing for Palestine. But Moshe was (falsely) suspected of having contracted Tuberculosis, and was quarantined alone in a German sanatorium, while his sister and friends set sail on "Exodus".

At the time Palestine was still under the British mandate and Jewish immigration was being severely restricted. The British captured the Exodus and all the passengers were shipped back to Germany, where Moshe was waiting and was able to rejoin his sister and group of friends. The story of the ship has been told in a book named Exodus, by Leon Uris. It later became a film with Charlton Heston.

Moshe was always drawing in the camp and started painting and making murals on Jewish subjects. In April 1948, Moshe and the group finally arrived in Palestine. He joined a kibbutz and fought in the Israeli Army during the War of Independence in May 1948. Two years of army service was followed by a move to Jerusalem where he enrolled in the Bezalel Art School. He then became an early member of the artists' village at Ein Hod, where he mostly worked in ceramics. His work included a relief for Haifa harbour to commemorate Jewish immigration.

In 1958, Moshe travelled to Italy, then to Paris, where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and gained a distinction in engraving. In 1962 he married Ruby, moved to London and began painting the works that were to become known as the Holocaust and Humanity series.

In London, Moshe made a living designing and making jewellery and stained glass windows, examples of which can be found at the Holocaust Survivors' Centre in Hendon, and the Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre in Laxton, Nottinghamshire, and in several private commissions.

In 1999, slides of 50 of his paintings from the Holocaust series were shown together for the first time at the New British Library, and later the originals were exhibited in 2004 at Bruce Castle Museum in North London.

Moshe chose "The Star Houses" as the title of his, (as yet unfinished) memoirs which were adapted by the writer Stewart Ross, for young people to learn about the Holocaust. It is published by Hodder Wayland (ISBN 0-7502-3311) and although out of print can sometimes be available through Amazon.

The Budapest pictures were shown at Enfield Civic Centre in January 2007 and in 2008 he had some more Holocaust works on display at Forty Hall, north Enfield.

He has been offered the chance to screen some of his paintings in the Jewish Museum in Budapest, which is now housed in the very building that was the synagogue which his family attended before the War, and where he had his Bar-mitzvah in 1943. The flat his family lived in, the secondary school he attended (he was the only Jewish boy in his class), the Star House they fled to, and the park where the gun battle he witnessed in 1944, are still nearby.

Moshe hopes to exhibit his paintings in the capital cities of Europe as warning to keep vigilant against discrimination, anti-Semitism and racism.